Interview: Robert Wade and Neal Purvis: The Voice of Bond
by Scott Juba
Published: January 29, 2007
The names Robert Wade and Neal Purvis may not be as widely recognized as the names Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan, but they should be. While Craig and Brosnan have given James Bond a face, Wade and Purvis have given him a voice. This talented writing duo penned the scripts for “The World Is Not Enough,” “Die Another Day,” as well as the highest-grossing Bond film of all-time, “Casino Royale.”
As a result, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts honored them and co-writer Paul Haggis with a best adapted screenplay nomination for the script of “Casino Royale.” In total, “Casino Royale” earned nine BAFTA nominations (ten if you count Eva Green’s nomination for the Rising Star Award), due in large part to the deft storytelling skills of Wade and Purvis.
Despite the accolades, Wade and Purvis remain humble about their accomplishments. “We were very surprised by the nominations,” Purvis says, “because it takes something for people to think of Casino Royale as just a good film and not a Bond film.”
Wade adds, “Being nominated is a huge leap forward for a Bond movie.”
In order to take that leap forward, it required “Casino Royale” to return to Bond’s roots and explore what made him the man he is. According to Wade and Purvis, that re-boot of the franchise accounts for a large part of the popularity “Casino Royale” has enjoyed. “The important thing was that Casino Royale was very much a character piece,” Purvis explains. “It’s something you really couldn’t do with the other Bonds, because they were already up and running. If you gave them a problem, it wasn’t something they could carry throughout the film very easily because it was something that just appeared there and then.”
This increased focus on establishing Bond’s character is a primary reason why other side characters such as Q and Moneypenny were left out of “Casino Royale” and may not be present in the next Bond film either. “Some people think they should be there, and some people know that they shouldn’t be there,” Wade tells me. “With the way Casino Royale ends, you know there’s still unfinished business for Bond. He may say, ‘The name’s Bond, James Bond,’ but there’s still a lot of stuff churning up inside him. So, if you’re going to explore that, and we’ve got this great actor to do that with, what you don’t want to do is suddenly clamp it down with all these familiar elements that keep your focus off him. He’s the great asset.”
If either of the characters returns, Purvis says it would be easier to add Moneypenny to the storyline. “Q presents more problems,” he says. “People have all got gadgets now. Other films have lots of gadgets as well…The idea of Q coming back, for the moment, it’s just not a high priority.”
In the process of making “Casino Royale” more character-driven and less focused on gadgets, Wade and Purvis crafted a gritty, more realistic spy drama than many of the previous Bond films. Yet, as Purvis acknowledges, there are some elements of Bond films that will always be outside the realm of reality. “A Bond film is meant to be entertainment, so it has to be slightly removed from reality. This one is much closer to reality. It’s still a heightened world though, where you try to make a card game a major part of financing terrorism. It’s just extreme.”
Many fans and members of the press considered the casting of Daniel Craig to be an extreme choice until they witnessed his cunning portrayal of Bond. Wade parallels Craig’s journey from criticism to praise with Bond’s journey in the film. “Bond’s sort of struggling against the odds. What’s heroic and affecting about him is that he keeps going, even when everything is against him. So, in a way, it’s kind of like that’s what Daniel did in real life.”
Purvis has similarly high praise for Craig. “He’s such a good actor that he can convey things without being given a line. And also, once you saw the way the film worked, he just feels like an unstoppable force.”
“Casino Royale” was adapted from Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name. While the writers express sincere respect for the book, they admit that several changes had to be made to the story to make it meet the expectations of today’s movie-going public. “We brought in quite a lot of new stuff,” Wade explains. “In the end, that whole sequence in Venice, there’s nothing of that in the book. It just seemed emotionally right that that’s where their relationship should come unstuck.” He adds, “The book doesn’t have enough for the modern audience that is used to what the Bond movies give you. We had quite a lot of work to do. But, in the end, the great thing about the book is that it focuses on James Bond.”
Given the success of the book-to-screen adaptation of “Casino Royale,” rumors recently circulated that Bond’s next adventure will be based on Ian Fleming's short story, “Risico.” Wade flatly denies that rumor. “That’s not the case,” he tells me.
While quick to dispel the “Risico” connection, Wade refuses to deny rumors that Vesper’s Algerian boyfriend will be one of the villains in Bond 22. “I can’t comment,” he simply states, leaving the door open for that storyline to potentially take shape.
As for a timetable on the Bond 22 script, Wade says, “The idea is for the movie to start shooting at the beginning of next year. It would be nice to have the draft next week. [Laughs]. The sooner the better. It’s not an easy thing to do, because the bar was raised with the last picture, so we have to raise our game again.”
Raising that bar should be easier for Wade and Purvis than for many writing duos, because they share a working chemistry that spans more than twenty years. The pair first met at the University of Kent. “We were put in to share a bunk bed, so we met each other without wanting to,” Wade recalls. “Neal left after one term, so that tells you about that. [Laughs].”
Surprisingly, their first collaboration came in a music band. “As we were failing as rock ‘n roll people, we started writing screenplays as a sort of side line to make some money and express ourselves. We still regard screenwriting as only a side line. We still hope to make it as musicians.”
Even if their aspirations to be professional musicians are never fulfilled, judging by the level of success they’ve had in the film industry, there’s little doubt that they’ll always have an avenue to let their storytelling voices be heard.